Arf! Arf! Dog Memoirs


For some time now I've been reading one dog book after another. My strategy for getting an actual dog has involved an obsession with Petfinder, talking about getting a dog ad infinitum, and reading stacks of books. The training guides are fine, but I especially liked the dog memoirs, or, really, writers' books about their pets. You can read about some of my favorites over at Biographile. (Scroll down on the page to "The 5 'Best in Show' Dog Memoirs.") Our real-life pooch arrives soon, too.

P.S. The thirteen puppies in the photograph need homes! Contact CARA, a nonprofit animal shelter in Jackson, Mississippi, if you're interested.

Image courtesy of CARA's Facebook page

Children's Lit Blogger Awards, Science Books

The Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (the Cybils) were announced on February 14th. You'll lots of good reading in a variety of categories, from book apps to young adult fiction.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science recently announced the winners of  the AAAS/Suburu Science Books & Film Prize for Excellence in Science Books. The prize honors books for children. You'll see only the winners on the AAAS site. The list of finalists is accessible only to subscribers of Science magazine.

Thinking about Second Grade Read-Alouds

9780786819881Each week I read books to a class of second-grade students. Last year's group liked text-rich picture books (like Library Lion) and nonfiction about animals, even the dry "this is the leopard" kind. The current crew enjoys short and funny read-alouds, so last week I went in with Mo Willems' Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! Several of the kids knew it already, but no matter. "That was the best book you've ever brought us," said one little guy. Someone else asked, "Where did the bus driver go?" and another, "Who is the pigeon talking to?" (F.Y.I., just in case you haven't seen this contemporary classic, Willems has the pigeon directly addressing the reader.) I try to get the other children to chime in with their answers to questions like these. It's fun to hear the ideas. Up next is The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! After that, maybe Jon Klassen's I Want My Hat Back. None of these books takes more than a few minutes to read out loud.

The children's book expert Anita Silvey has made the case for bringing back picture books with longer texts; she wrote in School Library Journal last fall, "So much of what we see, no matter how clever it is, can be described as a joke book. Some are very good jokes, but once you’ve read the text, you don’t really need to read it hundreds of times." I agree, but...

For example, Bill Peete's much wordier picture books are full of fanciful storylines, not to mention hilarious visual humor, but I worry that if I read one, I might lose half the class to thumb-twiddling and squirming. But, if I never read it, they'd miss Prewitt Peacock's ridiculous, guffaw-inducing tail. Do I share Judi and Ron Barrett's equally funny though much more succinct Animals Definitely Should Not Wear Clothing, instead?

I know that the connection I make with the children is the most important part of our weekly story times; connection is what literacy is all about. But I do wonder about these things. And I certainly don't have all the answers!

image borrowed from Powell's Books

Finding Good Children's Books

Over at What Do We Do All Day?, you'll find an excellent post about ways to locate good books for children. The blog kindly includes a nod to Chicken Spaghetti's love of book lists. So, yeah! Let's break out a couple of new kid-book lists that popped up recently.

Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers, for kids 12-18 (via Bartography)

Charlotte Zolotow Award books, honoring writing for picture books

Edgar Award finalists, mysteries (books for grown-ups, too)

NAACP Image Award nominees for literature, featuring books in a number of categories, including ones for children and teens

APALA Asian/Pacific American Awards

Amelia Bloomer Project, feminist literature

Rainbow List, GLTBQ books

American Indian Youth Literature Awards, "created to identify and honor the very best writing and illustrations by and about American Indians, Alaska Natives, Canadian First Nations and Native Hawaiians"

Caldecott, Newbery Awards on the Horizon, Orbis Pictus Announced

The two biggest U.S. children's literature awards—the Newbery and Caldecott Medals—will be announced on Monday, January 23rd, along with a slew of other prizes.

I may not be online Monday morning to immediately update Chicken Spaghetti's 2011 Best Children's Books: A List of Lists and Awards. However, the American Library Association (ALA) promises live Newbery/Caldecott/etc. coverage; for details click here.

Again, what, what, what would be wrong with a big Newbery and Caldecott banner on the American Library Association's website? If these awards are some of the biggest things an organization sponsors, isn't it okay to say so? The general public does not know from "ALA Youth Media Awards." And Twitter hashtag #ALAyma seems like it's, well, in code.

Moving on now. My pick for the Caldecott, which honors illustration, is Allen Say's Drawing from Memory. For the Newbery (writing), Candace Fleming's Amelia Lost.

This morning saw the news of the Orbis Pictus Award for outstanding nonfiction for children. Chosen by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the winner was the picture book Balloons Over Broadway; a number of other books were honored, too, including Amelia Lost.

Updated to add: In the realm of literature for grown-ups, the National Book Critics Circle announced finalists for book awards in a number of categories. The NBCC also cited Kathryn Schulz for excellence in reviewing. I don't know her work at all, so I have some catching up to do!


"With his first George and Martha book, James [Marshall] was already entirely himself. He lacked only one component in his constellation of gifts: he was uncommercial to a fault. No shticking, no nudging knowingly, no winking or pandering to the grownups at the expense of the kids."

—Maurice Sendak, May 1997

Reprinted in the anthology George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends, written and illustrated by James Marshall (Houghton Mifflin, 2008).

Amen, Mr. Sendak.

The second graders I read to liked several of the George and Martha picture books very much. Each one is broken into several stories that stand on their own, and the children loved the details of the hippo best friends, like Martha's rather large skirt and George's gold tooth. And how funny it is when George pours his pea soup into his loafers rather than offend Martha! Everyone, boys and girls, had a lot to say about these books.

I was a little surprised that a couple of the students struggled with parts where a reader or listener has to use inference to make the jump to the next scene, but I hope we spent enough time talking about the stories so that everyone understood. I'm glad the children speak up when they don't get it. The more we talk about things together, the better!


Welcome, Choice Literacy Readers

Thank you to the Big Fresh, the Choice Literacy newsletter, for mentioning Chicken Spaghetti's 2011 Best Children's Books: A List of Lists and Awards. Welcome, readers! Literacy is all about connection, and I'm so happy that you've stopped by.

For those of you who don't know Choice Literacy, I highly recommend the Big Fresh, which is a free weekly e-newsletter; as a parent and school volunteer, I've picked up many good tips over the years. One of these days I hope to attend a literacy workshop.

Here is more about Choice Literacy, from its website:

Choice Literacy is dedicated to providing innovative, high-quality resources for K-12 literacy leaders. Founded in 2006, the website has grown to include over 1800 professionally produced and edited video and print features from top educators in the field like Jennifer Allen, Aimee Buckner, "The Sisters" (Joan Moser and Gail Boushey), and Franki Sibberson, as well as promising new voices like Katie Doherty and Heather Rader.

We believe literacy change that endures comes from within schools -- which is where you will find most of our contributors day in and day out. We honor and support local literacy leaders by supplying them with the practical resources they need to mentor colleagues, design demonstration classrooms, lead study groups, and assess literacy learning.

Happy reading in 2012!

Norman's Best Books of 2011

Once again I’ve asked my husband, Norman, to write about his best books of the year. Norman is always on the lookout for good suggestions and likes the reviews in the New Yorker, the New York Times Book Review, the Wall Street Journal, People, and Oprah, as well as the ones on NPR.

Take it away. It's all yours, Norm. (See also Norman's Best Books of 2009 and 2010.)

I’ve read many good books this year, so I am happy that once again Susan asked that I share some of my favorites with Chicken Spaghetti readers. My top 5 books are Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman, Long Drive Home by Will Allison, Lives Other Than My Own by Emmanuel Carrère (translated from the French by Linda Coverdale), We the Animals by Justin Torres, and The Free World by David Bezmozgis. Yes, that’s 7 books but I didn’t have the heart to drop 2 of these great reads.

Rules of Civility and The Hare with Amber Eyes are favorites that I encouraged Susan to read (as in, “Have you read it yet? Have you? Have you?”), and I have given both as gifts to others. Rules of Civility, by first-time author Amor Towles, is a wonderful story of three young people in New York City circa 1938. I was so taken by the characters when not reading the book I often found myself thinking about the them. Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes is a true story of family, survival, and art, and the fact that Mr. de Waal is an artist (he’s a ceramist) comes through in his vivid and detailed descriptions of palaces, furniture, and his family’s collection of netsuke (small, Japanese carvings of boxwood and ivory).

This Beautiful Life and Long Drive Home were well-told stories about how mistakes (and in the case of Long Drive Home a tragic mistake) can destroy a family. Lives Other Than My Own and We the Animals were deeply moving books, with the former containing two gracefully told stories of loss and the latter being a wild ride of a book that reminded me of the writing of Junot Diaz. David Bezmozgis’s The Free World is about the Krasnansky Family as they flee Latvia in 1978 and have to spend months in Italy before they can emigrate to their final destination. The Free World was the best of the books I read by the New Yorker’s “20 Under 40” noteworthy authors, though The Tiger’s Wife (Téa Obreht) and Swamplandia! (Karen Russell) weren’t far behind. (Notice how I snuck in two more must reads!)

Though not in my Best of the Best grouping, I also would recommend the following well-written novels: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal, Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar, Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin (translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim), Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante, So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman, Bent Road by Lori Roy, Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson, Faith by Jennifer Haigh, Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman, The Submission by Amy Waldman, and A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion by Ron Hansen. I also add to this grouping The Marriage Plot, but I have to admit that it took me several chapters before I fully got into the story, and the book was not nearly as captivating as Jeffrey Eugenides’s last book, Middlesex.

While novels are usually my favorite books, I was very glad to have read An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken (an outstanding memoir), Just Kids by Patti Smith (one of the best stories of love, friendship, and coming of age in New York), Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller (a fascinating story about the author’s parents and their multitude of challenges living in Africa), An Exclusive Love: A Memoir written by Johanna Adorján and translated from the German by Anthea Bell (the story of Adorján’s grandparents who survived the Holocaust but couldn’t bear the thought of living without one another in the final years of their lives), and The Empty Family by Cólm Toibín (a short story collection by the author of the excellent 2009 novel Brooklyn).

A few lighter reads that proved to be entertaining include An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin, The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady by Elizabeth Stuckey-French, My New American Life by Francine Prose, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky (translated from the German by Tim Mohr), and Starting from Happy by Patricia Marx. And, lastly, what would a year be without a few good mysteries, where Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson and A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny were among my favorites.

Happy reading in 2012,